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Jaume Plensa, the sculptor of the thinking souls

November 20 2017

[Click on the image to see the gallery]

To add a piece to his collection of works of art inspired by the history of the house and its founder, the Ruinart champagne brand has appealed in 2017 to the Catalan artist Jaume Plensa. He carved his faceless man with letters borrowed from eight different alphabets. A symbolic sculpture that says belonging to the human race and invites communication. Maintenance around a bottle of champagne that has remained closed. - Isabelle Cerboneschi


Plensa dreamed of becoming a doctor, he became a sculptor, sculpting the bodies he could not explore from within, keeping only the bark, the evocation. His monumental sculptures are highly recognizable: human silhouettes, faceless, in kneeling posture, or meditation, made of letters and symbols.

The statue of man thinking that Jaume Plensa created for the art collection of Ruinart, in homage to its founder, Dom Ruinart, passionate scholar of art, Greek antiquity, and culture, is in this movement. It tells a knowledge when it is open to the other. It is made of as much emptiness as matter. But the void has a strong symbolic charge because it is only the negative of letters from eight different alphabets - Latin, Greek, Arabic, Hebrew, Chinese, Japanese, Russian and Hindi. The man does not have a head, so he does not look anywhere. We enter directly into his thoughts, or rather no, he is thinking.

With letters embedded and assembled into each other by hand, the artist gives to see the soul when it is not in a position of separation, when all the alphabets coexist in it, because the being is still unified, pacified.

The work of the Catalan artist Jaume Plensa evokes me the prologue of the Gospels according to Jean. And when I point it out to him, he laughs. He laughs like all those artists whose work has a symbolic dimension. He wonders why. Then he looks for a possible answer to this assertion.

"Maybe because I chose in my work that to create a human body with an alphabet. This ability to speak, to communicate, it belongs to us. I try to transcribe this music that is the voice in writing, a kind of partition. My work sends a positive message of diversity, it is an invitation to understand each other, to create bridges between all cultures. "

IC: Words seem to you as vital as the air you breathe.
Jaume Plensa: I did a project in Chicago, the Crown Fountain, a tower with a thousand faces of inhabitants projected on video. They close their eyes and water comes out of their mouths like a gargoyle. I think it's a beautiful metaphor for our ability to speak. Water is the body - 60% of our body is made of water - but it's also the words. I find very beautiful the empty space that is created between two beings who speak to each other: there is an extraordinary absorption of energy. The idea of ​​communication was the concept behind this sculpture: I wanted to create a place where people could meet around a culture, talk to each other.

Are words, in your eyes, first of all a form?
Yes, everyone is the exact measure of its content. I grew up surrounded by books. My father read a lot and he wanted me to read things that I always refused in an act of self-affirmation, but thanks to him, I had the opportunity to read very early poetry that touched me infinitely. And thanks to that, I built a table of knowledge whose four feet were formed works of Baudelaire, Dante, William Blake and Shakespeare. I am a visual artist, certainly, but I grew up thanks to the images that the poets helped me to make in my dreams. Words have become images and my inspiration.

You speak about images, but William Blake was a poet but also a painter ...
William Blake was a special character to me: he was born in 1757, and lived like me with one foot in every century, becoming a bridge between the two. I feel myself riding between two centuries (Jaume Plensa was born in 1955, editor's note). We must build not only a visual work, but an aptitude in the face of reality, an ethic. For me art is not a direction but a consequence of my life. Maybe all this explains that my art is as it is ... I always have that desire of untouchable, this desire for something invisible beyond us.

The sculpture you created for Ruinart has no eyes and no face. Why?
At the moment when Ruinart offered me this collaboration I chose to make a work in this family of human form, with the alphabets. It was general and abstract, like the message slipped into a bottle that is sent to I do not know who. And for this collaboration with Ruinart, I found that this faceless human figure, which can be completed in our dreams, is wide and open. She talks about communication between humans of all cultures. This is the positive side of globalization, which makes us rich in our diversity: the more we are different and the more information we have to offer.

Does this choice of eight different alphabets have a special reason?
No, I chose them for a few years as a metaphor for all the alphabets. Sometimes I also use the Thai or Tamil alphabet. I chose those because we can not use them all. They are different enough to represent all the others.

Is the ideal man a man of his word?
Yes, inevitably. If anything makes the difference between us and all the other creations of nature, it is this ability to create words, build them, enter into conversation between us. And it's extraordinary.

There is something very unifying in your work: it excludes neither joy nor beauty. And I mention it because today, to say that a work of art is beautiful is almost as if it were antithetical.
I agree. Since a few years I am proud of the beauty. This is the most essential thing I have to offer. It is almost an obligation of the artist: to return to beauty. The community, society desperately needs it and we must create it, we artists, writers, musicians, ... Beauty has always been revolutionary, because everyone understands it without being able to express it. It's something attached to our memory. We recognize it right away.

When we look at your work, a very strong message emerges: what we live is engraved in us on the skin. Does this mean that the word can heal?
Absolutely! I believe in a kind of apprehension of reality not necessarily with the eyes, or with the ears, or with the mouth. I worked a lot the position of the wise man who closes the eyes, the mouth and the ears of his hands, but not in a negative sense. Rather with the intention of saying that there are other parts of the body that are open to communication. You have to feel with the body, to have your eyes in your fingers, you have to caress things to understand them, you have to live these inexplicable vibrations. There are times when children fall asleep lulled by cars: it happens to us without us noticing. The reality is falling asleep in front of us. Art has the ability to wake her up again. William Blake said that one thought could fill the immensity: One thought immensity fills. I believe in this idea that the vibration of our body, of our ideas, can fill the space with an enormous and invisible energy, which embraces us and which makes things change. In the same way that I believe that life permanently tattoos texts on the skin, but with an invisible ink, and all of a sudden, there is someone who has the ability to read on our skin this message invisible and he becomes a friend, a lover, someone close. My work seeks to show that, things that are beyond us, contradictions, stories that we can not express but that we feel.

Champagne is a particular wine because it has a certain joy in it.
I love champagne! I have no explanation for that. I often used as a metaphor to explain my work that of the message in a bottle. But what more beautiful message than that which one extracts from a bottle of champagne?

Do you think that we can change the world by using more beautiful words?
The answer is in the question I think ...

"You have to feel with your body, to have your eyes in your fingers, you have to caress things to understand them, you have to live these inexplicable vibrations." - Jaume Plensa

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God He was in the beginning with God. All is born of him, and absolutely nothing of what exists has been born without him. In him is life; and life is the light of men. And the light illuminates the darkness, and the darkness has not received it. " - Prologue of the Gospel according to John